In 1854, my great great grandparents James and Maria
Snedden left their Scottish homeland forever and travelled half way around the world
to Australia in search of a better life.
They were both Glasgow born and bred. James was a coal miner and the
son and grandson of coal miners. Maria was the granddaughter of a silk weaver and the
daughter of a carpet weaver.
James Snedden and Maria McGee were married on the 27th of June, 1852
in the Barony Parish, Glasgow. They were both living in the Glasgow village of Bridgeton
at the time of their marriage.
On the 7th of August, 1853, their first daughter Mary was born at 52
Savoy Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow. Mary Snedden was the only one of James and Maria’s
eleven children who was not born in Australia.
Emigration from The United Kingdom in 1854, the year that James and
Maria Snedden came to Australia, was under the authority of Her Majesty’s Colonial
Land and Immigration Commission. This scheme had been in operation since 1841 and was set
up by the British government because of mounting dissatisfaction with the previous
government scheme. This earlier scheme was attacked for being too expensive and for
bringing out too many children, unskilled workers, middle aged people and paupers.
Most of the following information is taken from a colonisation
circular issued by the Commissioners of the scheme which contained information for people
leaving Great Britain in 1854.
To be eligible under this new scheme, prospective migrants had to be
sober, industrious and furnished with character references. Married adults had to be under
forty years of age and single adults under thirty. The men and single women also had to
have work skills which would made them productive in Australia.
Emigrants also had to be of general good moral character and have
been in the habit of working for wages. They were also required to be in good health and
free from all bodily and mental defects. The most preferred candidates were respectable
young women trained to domestic or farm service and families in which there was a
preponderance of females.
Emigrants who were excluded were unaccompanied single women under
18, single women over 35 years, single women with illegitimate children, single men unless
they were sons in eligible families containing at least a corresponding number of
daughters. Families with more than 2 children under 7 or 3 children under 10 years of age
or in which the sons outnumbered the daughters, widowers and widows with young children,
persons who intended to resort to the goldfields, to buy land or to invest capital in
trade or who are in the habitual receipt of parish relief or who had not been vaccinated
or not had the small pox were also ineligible.
In 1854 The Emigration Commissioners were granting passages to New
South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Van Diemen’s Land.
Passengers were expected to pay the following contributions towards
their passages. The commissioners provided bedding and mess utensils for the voyage from
Passenger’s contributions to
Passengers under 50 years of age - one pound.
Passengers between 50 and 60 years of age - 5 pounds.
Passengers 60 years and upwards - 17 pounds.
Single men - 2 pounds.
Children under 14 years - 10 shillings.
For South Australia
Passengers under 45 years of age - 1 or 2 pounds
depending on their occupations. (A miner’s passage for himself and his wife was one
Passengers between 45 and 50 years of age - 5 pounds
Passengers between 50 and 60 years - 11 pounds
Single men - 2 pounds
Children under 14 years of age - 10 shillings
Passengers over 14 years of age to New South Wales and Van
Diemen’s Land were expected to repay the greater part of the cost of their passage
money or to take service with some employee in the colony who would engage to repay it for
Passengers to South Australia were not required to repay their
passage money but they had to sign an agreement that if they went to the goldfields or if
they quit the colony within four years of landing they had to repay a large proportion of
their passage money.
I think that in James and Maria Snedden’s case it was much
cheaper for them to travel to South Australia or to Victoria but although miners were not
wanted in Victoria they were certainly needed in South Australia because copper had been
discovered there around 1852.
On the eighteenth of August, 1854 a ship named The James Fernie left
the Birkenhead Docks at Liverpool, England carrying amongst her passengers James and Maria
Snedden and their infant daughter Mary . The James Fernie was bound for Adelaide in South
The James Ferniewas built in 1854 at St. John, New
Brunswick, Canada by the shipbuilding company Collins Brothers of London. She was a three
masted ship of 1037 tons. The length of her lower deck was 16 feet and the last cargo she
had carried before this voyage was timber.
The height between her decks was 7.8 feet and her lower deck was 162
feet long and 31.9 feet wide.
The ship’s charter for The James Ferniespecified that
there had to be a certain amount of deck space for each passenger and proper bed places
with curtains, seats, desks, tables and a school.
There were separate hospitals for males and females, a zinc lined
bathroom for the females, water closets, an oven for baking bread and a specified amount
of luggage space for each passenger.
A certain quantity of medicine was to be provided for each one
hundred passengers and the passengers were not to be molested on crossing the
line(equator). The ship’s master was required to prevent and prohibit "any
intercourse whatever" on the part of the crew or the officers and the female
Rations provided per week per adult passenger over 14 years were as
56 ounces of biscuit
6 ounces of beef, 18 ounces of pork
24 ounces of preserved meat
42 ounces of flour
21 ounces of oatmeal
8 ounces of raisins
6 ounces of suet
three quarters of an ounce of peas
8 ounces of rice
8 ounces of preserved potatoes
1 ounce of tea
one and a half ounces of ground coffee
12 ounces of sugar
8 ounces of treacle
4 ounces of butter
21 ounces of water.
Mixed pickles-one gill
mustard-half an ounce
salt - 2 ounces
pepper-half an ounce
Children between ten and fourteen years received two thirds of this
allowance and children between two and ten years received half.
Children between four months and two years of age were allowed
3 pints of water
One quarter of a pint of milk daily
3 ounces of preserved soup and one egg every alternate day
12 ounces of biscuit
4 ounces of oatmeal
8 ounces of flour
4 ounces of rice
10 ounces of sugar
Listed among the medicines carried on the ship were:-
Acetic, citric and nitric acid.
A bleeding porringer
The British Government paid the owners of The James Fernie eighteen
pounds, two shillings and sixpence for each adult passenger’s fare. Children between
the age of one and fourteen years travelled for half fare and infants under one year were
The captain on the voyage was Bartholomew Daly and the ship’s
surgeon was Charles H. Graham.
The thought of leaving home and travelling by sea on a long and
difficult voyage with a baby to an unknown land may seem to be a discouraging prospect,
but it must be remembered that the Scottish people were conditioned to hardship and at
least they carried with them the hope of a better life.
On board The James Fernie were three hundred and seventy six
passengers consisting of eighty eight adult males, one hundred and ninety adult females,
thirty seven male children and sixty one female children.
The occupations shown for the immigrants were:-
Domestic Servants - 88 females
Farm Servants - 6 married, 4 single, 34 females
Gardeners - 1 married
Carpenters - 8 married, 2 single
Agricultural Labourers - 9 married, 7 single
Miners - 3 married, 3 single
Blacksmiths - 2 married
Milliners - 2 females
Shepherds - 3 married, 4 single
Stonemasons - 4 married
Labourers - 5 married, 4 single
Lawyers - 2 married
Bakers - 1 married
Shoemakers - 1 single
Voluntary constables were selected from amongst the married men to
receive and carry to and from the galley the provisions for the chefs to prepare the food
for the ninety two single female passengers. This was to try to prevent all opportunities
for communication between the single women and the part of the ship used by the crew. The
single women frequently used the excuse that they needed to be in the forepart of the ship
to cook their food, when in reality, they were really there to consort with the crew.
Despite the strict travel conditions, there were thirty deaths,
twenty two from cholera and four miscarriages on The James Fernie. Other causes of death
are listed as "teething", malassimilation of food and congestion of the brain.
Sadly, amongst the dead was little Mary Snedden, aged twelve months.
She died on the fifteenth of September, 1854 from exhaustion following a bout of
diarrhoea. We can only imagine the feelings of James and Maria as they stood by unable to
help their dying child and watched as she was buried at sea. Mary’s name can be seen
crossed out on the passenger list with the word "dead" written in the far left
The clothing and bedding of the cholera cases was destroyed to
prevent contagion. There were also three births on the voyage.
On the sixteenth of November, 1854, after ninety one days at sea The
James Ferniereached the Port of Adelaide in South Australia.
A muster of the passengers on the day after the ship’s arrival
54 married adult males
52 married adult females
31 single male adults
129 single female adults
30 male children between the ages of one and fourteen
45 female children between the ages of one and fourteen
3 male infants(under one year)
5 female infants.
After nineteen days of quarantine, on the fifth of December, 1854,
the remaining three hundred and forty nine passengers at last set foot on Australian soil.
The average length of the voyage to Australia in those days was one
hundred and eleven days while the shortest voyage on record was eighty three days.
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